Dontrelle Willis was once on top of the baseball world. The hard-tossing lefty took the baseball world by storm in 2005 when he won 22 games, threw five shutouts and came in second in the NL Cy Young race.
Fast forward seven years, and this once-promising career is all but finished.
In his first five seasons (2003-07), Willis won a total of 68 games. Since then he has won a total of four games over four years.
Chalk it up to ineffectiveness, wildness, Steve Blass disease or a string of injuries for his plummet from grace. Whatever the case may be, after 2006 when his walks increased by 20 percent, his ERA jumped from 3.87 to 5.17 and his SO/BB ratio radically decreased from 3.09 to 1.93, the signs were there that something was seriously wrong.
Never pitching more than 75 innings in the last four years, Willis became a journeyman donning the uniform of the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds. Never once did it appear that Willis was past whatever was causing these problems, especially when his walks total nearly surpassed the number of innings he pitched.
This past December, the perennial powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies took a chance by signing Willis to a one-year incentive-laden deal that could’ve reached $1 million. And within three months of the signing, Willis is again without a team.
After allowing five earned runs and striking out four in less than three innings this spring, the Phillies announced that they had released Willis. Judging by the results that was a major factor in the decisions, but so was his velocity which ranged from 82-87 mph according to CBS Sports.
What did catch my attention was what Willis said last month in an interview with the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times:
Earlier this spring, I asked Willis about the nature of pitching on a non-guaranteed contract this spring. His response was surprising: he didn't know it wasn't guaranteed.
“You’d have to ask my agent that, I think it’s guaranteed,” a slightly puzzled Willis said last month. “I hope it is. Or else I’ve got to fire him, you know what I mean? I think it’s guaranteed.”
“I never look at it. Who cares?” Willis said. “It’s not about the money for me. It’s not like I have one of thee big deals like the starters. That’s irrelevant. I just want to get people out. You know what I mean?”
Willis’ contract was not guaranteed. Upon his release he was expected to receive $139,000 in termination pay (courtesy of USA Today).
If an athlete doesn’t know what his contract says, that is a major problem. There have been so many horror stories about athletes, despite all the millions, end up with nothing after retirement. Many have made bad investments, and lost everything in Ponzi schemes.
I, by no means, have any idea what his financial status is, whether Willis has invested the over $40 million in salary he has accumulated in his career, but to say something like “I hope it is” is probably not the best answer.
It’s not enough today to just be a great athlete; you need to be a businessman. An athlete is a brand and with branding comes making educated decisions about your money and having sound financial advice to go with it.
You can play the part and look like the most successful athlete in the world, but if you don’t plan for your future and/or family, it’s all for nothing.